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Reagan, Teamsters and my mother's body

My mother slowly lost the use of her body. For years she did the Pritikin diet, all of us ingesting mushroom patties laced with sunflower seeds, in support of her quest to regain her health. My childhood was punctuated by an endless parade of chiropractors, neurologists and acupuncturists seeking the cause of her frequent falls produced by an occasional misfiring of coordination.

As Teamsters, my parents had good health insurance. Better than most. They were forced to strike for it sometimes. Unions were pretty strong when my parents first joined in the late 70s. But like many things the unions got worse in the 80's. In 1981, when Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers and broke their union, a rapid erosion of a century of social and economic gains took place. An infection took hold in Teamsters. Like my mother, they got weaker year by year.

My parents prayed contract negotiations would work and a potential strike avoided. Striking meant no Overtime and Overtime was a buzzword in our family. Everything revolved around it. Possible trips to India, or McDonalds, a new car, even a new home, all could be had through Overtime. Overtime meant time and a half of your usual hourly wage. This was a truly glorious concept for my parents. Same work but more pay.

Nothing was more important to them, not their bodies, not even their health. What was a bruised toe when there was money to make by masking your limp? Sometimes my mother couldn’t hide her injuries and would be sent home by her Shop Steward, with sick pay. Sick pay was alright but it didn’t come with Overtime. Clearly it was a penalty for my parents. Instead of putting up her bruised feet and watching Guiding Light or General Hospital and ordering pizza for dinner, my mother, frustrated, nursed her bruises with a hot, yellow stinking poultice made of tumeric powder while  cooking brown rice and tofu.

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